Daily Mass attendance: is there an upward trend?
It’s happening again.
At the little chapel in the abbey where we go every day, it’s become difficult for late arrivals to find an empty pew at the early-morning Mass.
You understand, I’m not saying that the chapel is completely full. The pews fit four adults comfortably, and if you arrive at 6:59 on an ordinary weekday, you’ll find that most pews have only one or two people in them. So there’s room for you to join us—and you should!
But when we first began attending the 7 o’clock Mass on a regular basis, nineteen years ago, there were always plenty of empty pews. Not so today. On feast days, the chapel really is crowded—sometimes to the point of standing-room only.
This is a phenomenon that I’ve mentioned before. For 35 years now, I’ve been trying to get to Mass every day. During that time, though household moves and job changes have prompted me to attend daily Mass in several different churches and chapels, the trend has been consistent. In each place I have seen a slow increase in the number of daily communicants. It’s not dramatic, but it’s consistent.
Naturally there is attrition over time, too. Now and then we lose elderly members of the congregation, to death or illness or an assisted-living facility. Some of the other regulars take new jobs or new homes, and Mass at the abbey is no longer an option for them. Yet the ranks are continually restored by new arrivals.
The pattern, too, is consistent. There are the “regulars,” who show up pretty much every day. Then there are familiar faces, who appear several times a month; and occasional visitors who may be in the chapel when their schedule allows. Over time, some of the occasional visitors become familiar faces, and some of the familiar faces become regulars.
There is one noticeable boost in attendance each year. After Ash Wednesday, it becomes obvious that several new people have made a resolution to go to Mass daily during Lent. Then toward the end of the Easter season, one gradually begins to notice that a few of those people have continued to come every day, and soon they are “regulars,” too.
Is my experience unusual? Somehow I doubt it. While we worry a great deal—as we should—about the steady decline in attendance at Sunday Mass, I suspect that there is a countervailing trend: a rise in the number of Catholics making a more serious commitment. Daily Mass, it turns out, is habit-forming.
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